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Kentucky editorial roundup

January 30, 2019

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Jan. 25

The Lexington Herald-Leader on Senate Bill 2:

Let’s assume — for argument’s sake — that Senate Bill 2 has nothing to do with the grudge held by some prominent Kentucky Republicans against a certain Franklin Circuit judge.

Let’s pretend that Senate President Robert Stivers’ sole motive for sponsoring SB 2 is to strengthen Kentuckians’ trust in the courts by creating a more level playing field for lawsuits involving state government.

It’s still a stinkeroo.

SB 2 would transform Kentucky’s chief justice into the governor’s and legislature’s personal judge-shopper.

Lawsuits challenging the executive branch or legislature begin in Franklin Circuit Court, in the capital, where the challenged law was enacted or the challenged action originated. Franklin Circuit Court has two judges who hear lawsuits involving state government. Many of these cases are destined to be reviewed by higher courts.

Kentucky judges are elected in nonpartisan races. But because most Franklin County voters are Democrats, Republicans fear the judges there are biased against them.

Under Stivers’ bill, the governor, legislature or state agency being sued could demand that a special judge be appointed to hear the case against them. SB 2 dictates that the chief justice of the Supreme Court would “immediately designate a regular or retired justice or judge ... selected at random” to hear the suit.

When a jury is being selected, both sides have a say in the process. But only one side — the governor, the legislature, the state agency — would be entitled to this new right and have a role in selecting a judge if Stivers’ bill becomes law.

The plaintiffs — those challenging the constitutionality of a law or an action by state government — would have no say in who would hear their case. Such inequality seems inherently unfair and destroys any pretense of leveling the playing field.

The one-page bill does not specify what “random” process the chief justice should use to select the special judge demanded by the governor or legislature. But there’s no question that the Supreme Court would be asked to overturn high-profile rulings by judges selected by the chief justice. The appearance created by this awkward situation would serve only to undermine public confidence in the case’s outcome and in the judiciary.

When an earlier Senate president, Republican David Williams, wanted to move lawsuits out of Franklin Circuit and allow them to be heard in the plaintiff’s hometown, his avowed reason was to make it more convenient for those suing state government. Stivers’ bill would seem to create a new disadvantage for Kentuckians challenging decisions by the state.

As if all that isn’t bad enough, SB 2 cannot be separated from the demagogic and boorish attacks by Gov. Matt Bevin, Stivers and some other Kentucky Republicans on the judiciary.

Their most venomous criticism has been reserved for Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, who has ruled against the Bevin administration several times, including finding that the legislature acted unconstitutionally last year when it whisked through an overhaul of public pensions without proper notice and in a single day. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld Shepherd’s decision, a cue to reasonable people that Shepherd’s ruling was solid.

Nonetheless, after the Supreme Court ruling Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer all but vowed to get even through what he called “judicial reform.” Bevin has called Shepherd a “hack” and suggested that the governor not voters should choose judges.

The attacks on the courts by Bevin & Co. go beyond the pale, as former Justice Daniel J. Venters recently wrote. If successful, such attacks undermine the balance of power that keeps tyrants in check and democracies viable.

Bevin and his allies have created a climate in which SB 2, in its current form, can only be viewed as petty, ill conceived and a threat to public trust.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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Jan. 29

The State Journal on Gov. Matt Bevin replacing Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton on his re-election ticket with state Sen. Ralph Alvarado:

Gov. Matt Bevin pulled the old switcheroo Friday, replacing Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton on his re-election ticket with another political newcomer, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester.

Hampton, who became the first African-American to hold a statewide office in Kentucky, was a bright star in Bevin’s administration, despite the diminished role she was given — speaking to school groups across the state, touting entrepreneurship and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for girls.

In 2015, Bevin plucked Hampton, a conservative Tea Party candidate who unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. Jody Richards, R-Bowling Green, the prior year, from political obscurity for his campaign. On Friday, he dumped her just as fast.

A trailblazer like Hampton, Alvarado became the first Hispanic person elected to the General Assembly in 2014. He serves as state senator for the 28th District, representing Fayette, Clark and Montgomery counties. Originally from California, his parents are both immigrants: Alvarado’s father is from Costa Rica, and his mother came from Argentina.

A physician, Alvarado has been considered a rising star in the GOP since he spoke before a national audience at the Republican National Convention in 2016 — which is likely one reason Bevin so eagerly wants to ride his coattails.

The governor’s first term has been plagued by turmoil, from infighting with legislators in his own party to battling it out with Kentucky teachers and public employees over pension reform. With his statewide approval rating at a personal all-time low — 53 percent of likely Kentucky voters say he is not doing a good job, according to the latest numbers from Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy — Bevin needs every bit of Alvarado’s positivity if wants to win a second term.

The incumbent and his new running mate will have to defeat fellow Republican candidates state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-London, and Lawrence County Attorney Mike Hogan in the primary.

The winner will go on to face the Democratic nominee. House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, Attorney General Andy Beshear and state Auditor Adam Edelen have filed to run in the May primary and have name recognition across the state.

Much like the Kentucky Derby, which falls just 17 days before the state primary election, there is no clearcut winner in this race. ...

Online: https://www.state-journal.com/

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Jan. 27

The Daily Independent of Ashland on legislation barring all tobacco use on school property:

The Commonwealth and the nation are making progress on tobacco. Progress comes in the form of reducing usage and also making this lethal product less attractive to those who’ve never used it or who are inclined to go back to using it after quitting.

One small example can be found in our schools. ... Daily Independent reporter Rachel Adkins detailed how local school superintendents are in support of a state-wide tobacco-free schools law that is being advocated for in Frankfort by superintendents and health advocates. The group is working on bills in the House and Senate, from Rep. Kim Moser and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, which urged their colleagues to support and protect youth and teens by enacting this youth health measure.

Speakers addressed the skyrocketing rates of teen “juuling” and vaping as well as newfound support from superintendents and school boards as impetus for passing a law in Kentucky in 2019. House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 27 would bar the use of tobacco products both on and in property owned by Kentucky school districts.

The law would apply to all persons at all times while on campus, including vehicles owned by the district anywhere they travel and vehicles while they are on school property. It also would apply to events on school-owned property 24/7.

In Kentucky, 42 percent of school districts covering 57 percent of students have enacted 100 percent tobacco-free schools policies.

Boyd County Superintendent Bill Boblett said the district has been tobacco-free for a long time, noting he thinks the law is a great idea.

“We know the negative effects of tobacco on students especially,” Boblett said.

Ashland Independent Schools Superintendent Sean Howard said his district has also had a tobacco-free policy for quite some time now. Greenup County Superintendent Sherry Horsley said the district does have a tobacco-free policy in place for students and faculty, but noted there is currently not a policy in place for areas like sporting events.

Some facts we all need to be reminded of (and which we can never be reminded enough of) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

— More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking and for every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness.

— Stunningly, nearly 6 million deaths per year are attributed to tobacco use. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.

— On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than those who don’t smoke.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 90 percent of tobacco use starts by age 18; Kentucky’s youth tobacco use rates significantly exceed national averages.

Meanwhile, the nation, and Kentucky are making progress on deterring this deadly, terribly addictive drug. A recently passed 50 cent tax on cigarettes has helped slow down smoking, according to a recent Kentucky Health Issues poll.

Passing this legislation barring all tobacco use on school property is a no-brainer. Is it largely symbolic to a certain degree? Yes. However, anything we can do to send the message to our children that tobacco is a lethal habit not tolerated in school settings will benefit kids over the long-haul.

Online: https://www.dailyindependent.com/

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